Living a Life the Fans Love to Love
By Jon-Michael Reed
Los Angeles Times
August 31, 1979
NEW YORK - When she first arrived on ONE LIFE TO LIVE as Karen Wolek two years ago, actress Judith Light wasn't welcomed with open arms by fans of the show.
The role was originated by an actress who was a tiny wisp of a thing, who paraded around in bikinis and bath towels. Karen was a young housewife who was bored with home and a working hubby. She soon took up with enticing repairmen. That led to a little extra shopping money when she became a daytime hooker for the nefarious Marco Dane. Audiences responded wildly to Karen as the soap woman they most loved to hate.
Miss Light's debut marked a change for the character. She was more mature-looking, less girlish and giddy, much more of a fire-breathing dragon lady than her predecessor. Perhaps Judith's interpretation of the character was vicariously more "threatening" to the audience. Whatever, there was a considerable number of complaints about the change in actresses. Soon, however, Judith projected vulnerability to Karen that had the audience eating out of her sinful hands.
"Karen was involved in all the sordidness," remembers Judith, "but she was fighting desperately to regain what little self-respect she had left."
Then came Marco's murder. Karen was a prime suspect. Karen waged a relentless search to find the murderer. In the process, she won the audience sympathy, but at the expense of her reputation and marriage.
In one of the most explosive series of scenes in soap history, Karen took the witness stand. For days, Judith was called upon to wail and beat her breasts as Karen confessed her secret life and its web of intrigue involving Tabot Huddleston, who was the murderer.
The audience was emotionally whipped and battered. So was Judith, who was a shaking bundle of nerves during the following weeks when Karen's marriage went down the drain. The former "sewer tramp" had redeemed herself and had almost become a haloed madonna. Karen, because of Judith's portrayal, had become a soap character that the audience loved to love.
When Judith wasn't nominated for a daytime Emmy this year, her fans stormed the National Academy of Television Arts and Sciences with protest mail. Because of entry deadlines, some of her dynamic courtroom scenes will be eligible for next year's nominations. But Judith Light's fans couldn't wait that long. Recently her fan club held a party at a Broadway restaurant here.
Fans came from as far away as Michigan and California to meet the Trenton, N.J., beauty. The actress took hours to shake hands, sign autographs, pose for photos and plant kisses on adoring cheeks. At the end, the actress was drenched with sweat. "But listen," said Judith, "without them I might not even be on the show."
She obviously knows where her bread is buttered and goes out of her way to tour the country in personal appearances to meet her fans. At the fan club party, she delighted the throngs by bringing along her ONE LIFE TO LIVE castmates, including her screen husband Larry Wolek (Michael Storm) who was beseeched to forgive his wayward wife. Another couple who caused a ruckus were Brynn Thayer and Gerald Anthony.
But the star of the day was Judith Light.